The history of vaccines developed to prevent infectious diseases is rife with claims that vaccines are dangerous. As pointed out by a recent editorial in the highly authoritative New England Journal of Medicine anti-vaccinationists have been around as long as vaccines.
A History of Anti-Vaccinationism
At the turn of the twentieth century, people revolted against smallpox vaccination, immunization rates fell dramatically, and outbreaks of the disease occurred throughout England. On the other hand, many fears were realized when the original injectable Salk vaccine for polio, developed in the early 1950’s, was contaminated by live polio virus (thereby resulting in sporadic cases of polio in children immunized) and by a more serious organism – monkey kidney cancer virus. Other cancers as well have been linked with the earliest polio vaccines, including certain brain tumors and mesothelioma, normally thought to be related only to inhalation of small toxic fibers such as asbestos.
In the 1970’s and ‘80’s disdain for the DPT shot arose and pertussis (whooping cough) made a comeback with the resultant death of several children. At the same time, litigation against vaccine manufacturers for real or imagined injuries became so widespread that the federal government had to indemnify the manufacturers against potential litigation by enacting the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Hysteria over the swine flu in the mid-1970’s led to the rapid preparation of a vaccine which caused the severe neurological disease Guillain-Barré Syndrome in hundreds of those vaccinated, so the story remains complicated. Since that time refinements in the way the flu shot is prepared has thus far resulted in avoidance of another outbreak of side effects.